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Nuclear plant battle threatens task force bill (UPDATE)

A small nuclear research reactor is suspended near the bottom of a 27-foot concrete tank of water at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison in 2005. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Craig Schreiner)

A small nuclear research reactor is suspended near the bottom of a 27-foot concrete tank of water at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison in 2005. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Craig Schreiner)

By Paul Snyder

State lawmakers preparing global warming legislation are feeling the fallout from a clean energy coalition’s opposition to a nuclear power plant bill.

State Rep. Jim Soletski, D-Green Bay, is one of four lawmakers developing the global warming legislation based on recommendations made last year by the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming. The task force recommended easing state restrictions on construction of nuclear power plants.

The task force included representatives from the Wisconsin Citizens Utility Board, Sierra Club Wisconsin and Clean Wisconsin Inc. But those same groups on Tuesday stood with the Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Wisconsin Coalition in opposition to lifting the state’s restrictions on nuclear development.

“To be honest with you, I’m still very upset about it,” Soletski said. “It’s hard to deal with some people when they appear to me to be working against the discussion we’ve had about working toward safe, reliable energy in Wisconsin.

“I feel like I can’t trust them.”

Charlie Higley, Citizens Utility Board executive director and a member of the task force, said Tuesday’s opposition was not directed at Soletski’s bill. Rather, Higley said, the coalition is targeting a bill introduced by state Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem.

Huebsch wants to lift all state restrictions on nuclear plant development. The global warming task force recommended leaving in place some hoops for such projects to go through.

State law requires proposed nuclear power plants meet two standards beyond those that govern nonnuclear plants: identify a federally licensed dumping ground for spent nuclear fuel and submit to a Public Service Commission of Wisconsin cost analysis no matter who owns the plant and no matter how much electricity it produces.

Nonnuclear power plants, according to state law, are subject to a cost analysis only if the owner is a utility or the plant produces more than 100 megawatts of electricity.

Huebsch’s bill would remove both nuclear standards and let the PSC review a nuclear plant by the same guidelines as any other power plant. The global warming task force recommended repealing only the dumping ground requirement.

PSC Chairman Eric Callisto said he supports the global warming task force’s approach because it eases the state into nuclear power plant discussions rather than forcing the issue.

“I’m not saying I fully support nuclear,” he said, “but I think the recommendations untie our hands.”

But, Callisto said, the PSC will conduct a cost analysis of every nuclear power plant proposal.

If that’s the case, Huebsch said, he doesn’t understand why his bill is causing such hand-wringing. The only difference, he said, between his bill and the task force recommendations is that his bill takes the PSC at its word, and the task force supports a redundant requirement for cost analysis.

Huebsch said the task force members opposing his bill are making a mistake.

“I don’t think they thought ahead,” he said. “What they have done is begin to unravel a fragile coalition and given the green light for other members to walk away from the recommendations.”

Soletski said it’s his bill he’s worried about, and the timing of the opposition doesn’t help.

“They make this announcement when our bill is getting ready to be rolled out,” he said. “It poisons the discussion.”


  1. Why on earth would someone feel they can trust activists who are overtly working to banish nuclear powered electricity production? Look around – most of these same people want to shutdown coal, gas, oil generation facilities. Dig a little deeper and you will find they oppose hydro-electric dams. The only way you are going to make them trustworthy will be to turn out the lights and return Wisconsin to a farm economy without electricity. Old style farms do not need electricity nor do the people who live and work the farms.

  2. I suggest that anyone who opposes legislation to bring more clean nuclear energy on line be cut off all electricity. You can tell them, “Hey, possibly some of your electricity was produced by nuclear energy already in Wisconsin and we didn’t want to offend you by selling you energy produced that way!”
    When their lights go out — maybe they will see the need for nuclear energy – the energy of the future.
    As Wally says, maybe they won’t like living like people from the nineteenth century.

  3. I agree with the first too comments and add that we need to support Rep. Mike Huebsch’s bill and take down all the hurdles to nuclear power……..if that is we are sincerely interested in clean, safe, and reliable renewable energy. Wind energy is the most expensive, inefficient and tax subsidized form of electricity yet everyone is going ga ga over it. Wind energy is not emission free nor free if you put a little thought in to it. It is causing many ill health affects to those who live in the wind factories. Give me a nuclear power plant anytime.

  4. Supporting nuclear power also means being willing to pay for it.

    Since 2005, cost estimates for building a new nuclear reactor have more than tripled. In June 2008, staff at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimated that building a new 1,000 megawatt reactor could cost up to $7.5 billion.

    In 2005, Congress passed an energy bill containing numerous taxpayer-financed subsidies for new nuclear reactors, including loan guarantees, extended liability insurance, and tax credits. In an analysis of these subsidies, Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute calls nuclear energy “an economic white elephant” and concludes that the nuclear industry could not survive without government intervention.

    Building all currently planned nuclear power plants in the country could cost $300 billion. Investing $300 billion in energy efficiency rather than a fleet of new nuclear power plants could eliminate growth in America’s electricity consumption through 2030 and save consumers more than $600 billion. The question is: do you want bang for your buck or wasteful spending?

  5. What Huebsch’s bill does, but Soletski and Callisto didn’t mention, is eliminate the current requirement that there be a federal repository to dispose of nuclear waste before any more reactors are licensed. That is no small matter. The highly radioactive waste, deadly for hundreds of thousands of years, is piling up at reactor sites with no permanent way to dispose of it. To build more reactors to produce more waste when there is no solution to the disposal dilemma is unconscionable.

  6. Bruce talks about the 300 billion for nuclear plants being costly. Well what about the near trillion dollars for the bailouts – at least with nuclear plants we would create jobs and have electricity available. So far I have not seen any demonstrable benefits to me from this unpressedented bailout expenditure …

  7. Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Equals Dark, Cold! Even Hydro, Wind, and Solar have a Carbon Footprint! Can’t have your Carbon-Free Cake and Eat it, too…

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